three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
27-Mar-Apr-2007
By: 
Roddy Doyle
user_rating: 
0

A-PaulaSpencerTen years after Roddy Doyle enthralled readers with his candid portrayal of domestic violence and substance abuse in The Woman Who Walked Into Doors (1996), he revisits working-class Dublin housewife Paula Spencer. Over a decade has passed since Paula’s murderous husband was gunned down by police during a crime spree, but she still grapples with the aftermath of her abusive marriage, her alcoholism, and the effect these have had on her family. Sober now for just over four months, Paula struggles with guilt and temptation while trying desperately to reconnect with her four grown children and lead a "normal" life.
Viking. 281 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670038164

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"By exchanging first-person narrative for third-person, Doyle … forgoes the literary flash in favor of precisely observed moments. Like the first book, though, the sequel still unfolds primarily through dialogue and interior monologue." Yvonne Zipp

Independent (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Paula is a triumphantly original character, and her gently anarchic sense of humour, her ruthless honesty and the bursting sense of fun that permeates the book scotch any hint of sentimentalism. Doyle, meanwhile, constructs his set-pieces and orders the narrative with a craft so unobtrusively elegant and clever that it demands a second reading." Tim Martin

Scotsman (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Doyle movingly shows us both how difficult and how provisional healing a hard-knocked life can be. It’s a disciplined piece of writing, full of humour and immense empathy." David Robinson

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s a testament to Roddy Doyle’s restrained, dryly funny writing that you walk away from his novel Paula Spencer rooting for the tattered yet doggedly optimistic husk of a woman trying to stay sober. … Doyle, with his spare, sparse prose, is never preachy or didactic." Donna Freydkin

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"If Paula Spencer doesn’t quite reach the heights or plumb the depths that the earlier book did, it’s only because the first novel was richer by design, encompassing through flashbacks the whole of Paula’s life, and more inherently dramatic, since it centered on the appalling violence inflicted on its narrator. … Lest this sound like faint praise, let me add that reading Paula Spencer is pure, undiluted pleasure." James Hynes

Boston Globe 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The labyrinths of Paula’s inner narrative, so meticulously rendered in her first story, here feel abbreviated and grimly laconic—a shorthand that seems more of an authorial failing than a character revelation. … Still, there are elements of Paula Spencer to be applauded." Gail Caldwell

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 2 of 5 Stars
"While Doyle uses free indirect narration in Paula Spencer, rather than the first-person narrator we met in The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, this technique nevertheless fails to give his story the texture and depth it needs and deserves. … There are stretches of almost pure dialogue that are terrific … but between these diamonds, a reader spends far too much time in the rough on a forced march through Paula’s monotonous staccato sentences." Mike Fischer

Critical Summary

Roddy Doyle, winner of the 1993 Booker Prize for Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha, takes an unsentimental look at the quest for redemption in Paula Spencer. British reviewers applauded Doyle’s unflinching depiction of a troubled but ultimately hopeful woman. American reviewers admired Paula’s spirit and sense of humor, but raised questions about some of Doyle’s technical choices: his short, repetitive sentences, for example, and his decision to narrate Paula’s story in the third person. Paula Spencer is a portrait rather than a page-turner, and critics who enjoyed the intense, powerful The Woman Who Walked Into Doors found the transition awkward. Most agreed, however, that it was not necessary to have read the earlier work to appreciate this understated, entertaining novel.